Dogs are barking, traffic is roaring and Robert Stone is taking to the hills of Simi Valley, trying to find a little solitude.
In less than five minutes, he finds what he’s looking for.
Limbs of thick oaks shade the hiking trail in Montgomery Canyon and the field of grass, tamped flat in places from last night’s deer bedding down, undulate in the breeze. Except for the crunching of his well-worn hiking shoes, the only sound is the trickle of the nearby stream shedding memories of the recent storms.
This is why Stone is out here, for the peace and tranquillity, but he’s also hoping you get there, too. Stone, 59, just published his third edition of “Day Hikes Around Ventura County,” a guide meant to get the most hardened of hikers, as well as the out-of-shape newbie, out into the hills and valleys in the county that stretch from the sea to the (at times) snow-covered peaks.
“My goal is to get people on the trails and to have fun for the day,” said Stone, who has written 30 similar day hiking guides around the United States, including ones that blanket Southern California, touch upon the Hawaiian islands and take hikers above the tree line in the Rockies. He splits his time between winters in Shell Beach near San Luis Obispo and his home just outside of Yellowstone National Park in Montana.
His guide to Ventura County is one of his biggest sellers in his collection, coming in just behind the his guide to Los Angeles and Yellowstone. He suspects people in Ventura County are better than others at appreciating, and exploring, the wide-open spaces that can often be found so close to the pavement and bustle of Southern California.
“I think that the people here are proud of their county and there is a lot of enthusiasm for these places,” he said as he did a 3.5-mile loop in the hills of Simi Valley, where you could not only see the town, but the Santa Susana Mountains that frame it, and, in the distance, the snowy top of Mt. Pinos, the tallest mountain in the county at 8,831 feet. The third addition of his book comes with more than 25 new hikes, many of which are in the Conejo Valley.
“Ventura County is diverse because nothing compares to the rock formations in the Santa Susana Mountains, the majesty of the mountains in Ojai and then you have the Santa Monica Mountains,” he said.
He focuses on day hikes instead of long overnight trails because he thinks that is what most people are after. But it’s also a marketing tool that has worked wonderfully since he stumbled into a career as guidebook writer 20 years ago.
Stone had a number of rental properties in the mountains of Montana and would have guests ask him all the time where some good hikes were nearby. He self-published a crude compilation of about 20 hikes nearby, never thinking it would sell that well. But after it flew off the shelves, he made a similar one for Yellowstone and it sold well, too.
He made a bunch of fake covers for other guidebooks, took them to a publishing conference and struck a distribution deal for the yet unwritten books and hasn’t looked back since. Now, they are sold at major retailers as well as local outdoors stores.
He’s constantly updating his books, looking for new trails and ways to improve upon the last edition. He figures he spends about 200 days a year on the trail.
Sometimes Stone can’t believe his luck, falling into a life in the outdoors and, hopefully, luring a few others there, too.
“If I won the lottery, I wouldn’t change what I’m doing,” he said. “Except I’d stay in nicer hotels.”